Sheila Warren: Using blockchain to stop corruption and improve school meals

The World Economic Forum does much more than organise its annual Davos meetup. The not-for-profit foundation calls itself “the international organization for public-private cooperation”. As such, it investigates and promotes ways to make the world a better place, including in the field of blockchain. 

Sheila Warren is the WEF’s Head of Blockchain, Digital Currency and Data Policy. She talked to CoinGeek about her view of the prospects for the blockchain economy solving some of the problems of ‘surveillance capitalism’, by letting individuals own their own data. 

She admitted that she doesn’t see any revolution happening in the short term: “am I optimistic about it? No, I would not say I’m optimistic about it. I’ll just answer that question bluntly. However, that does not mean I don’t think it is very much worth paying attention to and even fighting for.”

It’s partly that, through contacts with big companies and governments, Sheila has become aware of “the sheer volume and flow of that data”. But individuals have to take responsibility too: “I don’t necessarily feel like the vast majority of people really care. And the reason I feel that way is because I think we’ve all seen how quickly people are willing to sign away their rights.”

But Sheila is ultimately optimistic about new data practices that blockchain will allow, and has “a short to medium term pessimism”. In the long run, she believes a new generation is coming that will “really take advantage of the elements of the blockchain …to do this in a different and better way.”

But WEF isn’t waiting for that day to arrive. Sheila’s group is responsible for several blockchain field trials, such as one in Colombia called the Transparency Project, which worked with the government’s Inspector General’s office to set up a blockchain procurement process for the awarding of contracts to provide school meals across the country. 

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Blockchain would help ensure that the bidding process was followed correctly, with a mechanism to time-stamp bids, for instance, so they couldn’t be changed retrospectively – which had been a problem in the past: “there’d be almost a mock proposal, if you will, like a straw man submitted that would then get changed out with corrupt actors, with different motivations for that. So the idea here is the immutability of the record provided an opportunity to basically ensure that there wasn’t that kind of change happening downstream, or if there was some sort of change of the record, you could see that. It would be recorded in a way that was very easy to spot.”

The aim was to keep the technology in the background as far as possible, which Sheila believes is a general principle in encouraging mass adoption: “we’ll have arrived when it’s invisible and you don’t need an understanding of blockchain to use most systems.”

“Our goal really is to normalise this technology and take away any fear around it and get people to understand that really it’s like any other technology. It’s got significant benefits, new benefits. It also has some challenges – and those are being addressed. But our hope is that over time, people will stop talking about blockchain, they’ll just be using it without even knowing it.”

Sheila Warren was a speaker at the Asia Blockchain Summit 2020: https://abasummit.io/

Hear the whole of Sheila Warren’s interview in this week’s CoinGeek Conversation podcast:

 

You can also watch the podcast video on YouTube.

And you can read a transcript of the interview here

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